The Political and Social Identities of the Palestinian Christian Community in Jordan

Article excerpt

This article focuses on the Palestinian Christian community in contemporary Jordan, tracing the evolution of the community's social, religious, and political identities since 1948 to the present day. Incorporating material from interviews conducted within the past two years, the article assesses the impact of local and global developments on the microidentities within the Palestinian-Jordanian community and the significance of religion in the context of sustaining the Palestinian heritage for future generations residing in the diaspora.

Christian communities have long flourished in the area that is now the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, notably in and around the provincial towns of Karak, Madaba, and Salt as well as 'Amman. Jordan's history as a transit country has provided a rich and varied tapestry of cultures and faiths, the most notable being the majority mixed-faith Palestinian community that is estimated to comprise 60% of the Kingdom's population. The peaceful mélange of faiths is illustriously exhibited in the capital by the numerous spires that stretch alongside minarets towards the skies of 'Amman. A closer look at the Palestinian and Jordanian communities of Jordan reveals a plethora of origins and influences, each rich in culture, heritage, and identity. Yet at the same time, the two groups differ in terms of their ethnic origins, as the Transjordanians descend from the nomadic tribes of Syria, the Hejaz, and the Nejd, in contrast to the Palestinians, who comprise a history shaped by the Canaanites, Hebrews, Syrians, Romans, Byzantines, and Greeks.1 In addition to the Jordanian and Palestinian-Jordanian communities, Jordan is home to a plethora of non-Arab minorities, with the Circassians and Chechens being the most numerous of these.

The Christians of Jordan and Palestine deserve more than a passing nod, as they transcend the boundaries of ethnic, religious, and national identity within Jordanian society. Accordingly, through the course of this article aspects of the contemporary Palestinian Christian identity shall be explored in the context of the Palestinian community in Jordan, commencing with an overview of Christianity in the region and the post-1948 migration of the Palestinian Christian community to the Kingdom. While Jordan has long sustained a Christian community, the arrival of the Palestinians facilitated the rise of a new identity that continues to compliment the existing Jordanian Christian identity - that of the Palestinian and Palestinian-Jordanian Christian identity. Multifarious and vibrant, the political and cultural aspects that have sustained and evolved the identity shall be charted, culminating in a debate addressing the future of the community in Jordan.

The Christian Arabs originate from three areas: central Palestine, the Galilee, and the middle and south of Lebanon; southern Syria; and the Caucasus. The greater majority of Christians in 'Amman and Zarqa' are either refugees from 1948 or the product of internal or external migration flows.2 Although there is no reliable data relating to the religious affiliation of the populations in Palestine prior to the British census of 1922, estimates of the Christian population in the year 1900 in all of Palestine, including the Galilee, the Mediterranean coast, Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip, range from a high of 18% to a modest 10%.3 According to recent sociological studies in the Palestinian territories that incorporate East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian Christian population has dropped to a mere 2.4% of the total Arab population.4

Jordan has long nurtured a profound connection with the Holy Land and is home to a number of important religious sites, most notably Mount Nebo, the early Christian pilgrimage site commemorating the place at which Moses saw the Promised Land, appointed Joshua as his successor, and was buried. Although Betty Jane Bailey and J. Martin Bailey have contended that most Jordanian Christians are of Palestinian origin, the Jordanian Christian community has existed on the land for centuries. …